And here's the thing. These books are something of a sacred cow; much beloved, modern classics, growing more controversial as they age in some ways unfashionably. There are those who have unkind opinions of the leisurely omniscient voice, the structure, the politics, what they presume to be the politics, and so on.
But I am here to tell you, there's a reason these books are a phenomenon of the genre, in print in multiple editions and all over the world, widely (and poorly) imitated, and why they were such an awakening when they were published.
It's because they are fun to read, baby.
That distanced omniscient narrator is funny. Sharp, with a dry sly wit and a strong, rhythmic voice. I got 68 pages into the trade paperback with complete absorption, which--I gotta tell you--does not happen these days. I was sitting on netcurmudgeon's couch picking up the book and reading every time he walked away, and laughing.
And calling into the kitchen to read him passages. Which also made him laugh.
They're good. They're not just worthy. They're good. They're entertaining and interesting and immersive. People don't read and reread them because secretly we're all monarchists who just want daddy to come spank and save us, or we're romantics seeking to abrogate the industrial revolution, or we're seeking escapist, consolatory literature (which I rather don't find them to be.) They read them to laugh and feel chilled and to be swept along by a master storyteller.
I suspect, with tilted head, that the reason these books have endured better-recognized and found a wider audience than other works of similar worthiness--Gormenghast, Lud-in-the-Mist--is just that. They're fun.
It's the same reason Shakespeare's stuck around better than Jonson. Jonson made you eat your spinach straight.
I've read my share of classics, modern and otherwise. And you know the great thing about them?
Most of them are really enjoyable books.* I can't stand Austen or Dickens, but they both have their partisans to this days, and I gotta tell you--Virginia Woolf? Awesome. Moby Dick? Beach reading. The Naked Lunch? Man, that shit is awesome.
The Fellowship of the Ring? Trust me. Six zillion hippie stoners did not wallow in that stuff because it was dull.
Something to consider, though, is that things that are only fun tend not to stick around either. They're fun, and then forgotten.
So be warned. Here in the genre trenches, in addition to being Meaningful, we will expect you to be Fun.
And if you want me I'll be in the tub with my book.
*Except Sons & Lovers. That book has no excuse to exist except to torture undergrads.